Not Even Free Weed Will Get People to Vote in a Primary

The promise of free and discounted pot did little to boost low turnout in San Jose.

National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
June 4, 2014, 6:20 a.m.

Pro-marijuana forces in San Jose, Cal­if., had an idea to flex their polit­ic­al muscles: Of­fer free and dis­coun­ted weed to med­ic­al-marijuana users in ex­change for vot­ing. Surely, scores of people would turn out to cast bal­lots in Tues­day’s primary, right?

Doesn’t look that way. Turnout in San Jose’s primary race, where five City Coun­cil seats and the may­or’s post were on the bal­lot, was abysmally low. This, des­pite Sil­ic­on Val­ley Can­nabis Co­ali­tion’s “Weed for Votes” cam­paign, in which par­ti­cip­at­ing can­nabis clubs offered free and dis­coun­ted marijuana to people with an “I Voted” stick­er. From San Jose Mer­cury News:

Dur­ing rush hour at one San Jose polling place, only a dozen voters cast their bal­lots in the first hour and a half this morn­ing. Barely three dozen at an­oth­er. But pre­cinct in­spect­or Bart Con­nally, at his Rose Garden pre­cinct with 1,400 re­gistered voters, said “it’s not many, but for a primary, it’s not too bad.”

The of­fer of free or dis­coun­ted marijuana at some San Jose dis­pens­ar­ies for all cus­tom­ers show­ing their “I Voted” stick­er or bal­lot stub didn’t seem to bring a rush to the polling places by mid­morn­ing. By late morn­ing Papadon’s Col­lect­ive on Lin­coln Av­en­ue in Wil­low Glen re­ceived just a few calls about the of­fer.

In a city of 415,000 re­gistered voters — one of Cali­for­nia’s largest cit­ies — only about 85,000 bal­lots were cast in a wide open race for may­or. And voter turnout county-wide is around 20 per­cent.

Also on the primary bal­lot: Gov. Jerry Brown. Santa Clara County turnout dur­ing the last gubernat­ori­al primary peaked at 43 per­cent. In 2006, the last time there was an open race for San Jose may­or, it came in at 37 per­cent.

It’s not all bad news for marijuana pro­ponents: Some of the can­nabis co­ali­tion’s pre­ferred can­did­ates tri­umphed Tues­day, such as Santa Clara County Su­per­visor Dave Cortese, who will face San Jose Coun­cil­man Sam Lic­cardo in the Novem­ber run­off for may­or of the city.

About 80 per­cent of votes cast in San Jose were ex­pec­ted to come via mail any­way, but the low turnout is not all that sur­pris­ing; ex­perts were pre­dict­ing a 20-year-low turnout in Santa Clara County. And if free weed isn’t enough to re­verse that tide, then what is?

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